Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Show of Tiny Hands, Please?

The Texas Nonprofit Summit in Austin last weekend, sponsored by Greenlights for Nonprofit Success and the OneStar Foundation, brought together 700 of my closest, like-minded, do-gooder, non-profit amigos –- all eager to do better in an age of making do with less.

One of the breakout sessions that I enjoyed was “Lighting a Spark: Volunteer Engagement for Maximum Impact and Effectiveness,” with Rosa Moreno-Mahoney and Sarah Jane Rehnborg.

If you’ve ever had to recruit people to accomplish a goal, you know that they’re not knocking down your email pinging pick me, pick me! It’s more about having to burst through call screening and email dodging to pluck them out of a self-imposed identity protection program.

Many people suffer from volunteer fatigue. We often ask too much of too few.

But there's a smarter strategy to engage but not tire out those raised hands: in micro-volunteering, the requestor provides a task, the volunteer brings the skill, does the work, and gets out: small time blocks, big benefits.

When you plan up front, understand the gifts your volunteers can share, task them to achieve specific results, provide them the authority and tools to accomplish their missions, and then close with some praise and lessons learned, you complete a successful cycle.

We’ve all experienced good volunteering and bad volunteering.

In bad volunteering, it’s a cluster crash. Three people BELIEVE they’re in charge. Half the supplies are missing or no one has skills to use the tools at hand. Keys have ambled off in absent-minded pockets. At least two people rearrange the supplies for the task because the stapler belongs on the left, even if you’re right-handed. There’s no water or web connections, the bathrooms are locked or, it’s 103 degrees and the steaming port-a-pot stalls were emptied last Thursday. No one has a cell number to call for direction -- but if you could dial any number at all, it would be to a cab to speed you away from that hell. Three dozen tacky Tweets and Facebook unfriendings later, you’re enemies for life.

In good volunteering, you show up, there’s a person in charge who knows what they are doing and, better yet, has a clear plan for what you should be doing. The needs and capacities have been considered and there’s a shared measure of a successful outcome. There are snacks and enough to drink. People say thank you and mean it. The group works cooperatively, goals are met, and everyone parts satisfied with the group’s accomplishments.

With planning, in-depth skills assessment, and delegation, the latter can be history not fantasy.

What was your last volunteer outing? What it something you gladly attended, or did you slouch toward the commitment? If you had the day to live over, would you do it again?

Keynote speaker Linda Crompton, President and CEO of BoardSource, wowed us when she stated that nonprofits will need 80,000 leaders by the year 2016. That’s a lot of leaders organizing a lot of volunteers to serve a lot of needs in just six short years.

Well, that’s if that Mayan calendar thing is wrong.